Pronto Mama on new album Any Joy

We gave Pronto Mama's Ciaran McEneny and Marc Rooney a call for a natter about the release of their debut album, Any Joy

Feature by Megan Wallace | 28 Apr 2017

If you’re looking for something a bit different, Pronto Mama is the band for you. Their lyric-driven, offbeat sound is the perfect antidote to the humdrum of the everyday and to repetitive chart music. The six-piece are, as they put it "very, very Glaswegian" and like many serious musicians, started making music in their teenage bedrooms. Now their part-time passion has developed into a serious professional pursuit.

When we talk to Pronto Mama's chief songwriters Ciaran McEneny and Marc Rooney, they cite Bombay Bicycle Club (who McEneny says are the "bees knees"), Talking Heads and, jokingly, Oasis as their favourite musicians. The influence of the first two is evident in the experimental nature of much of what Pronto Mama does, but it isn't too much of a stretch to see a little bit of Oasis in there too, especially with the edge that Glaswegian-accented vocals give their sound.

Unlike Oasis, they don't exactly have what you'd term as standard instrumentation and most of the members work across various instruments encompassing guitar, keyboards, trumpet, trombone and percussion. However, they also affirm that their sound "isn't as mad as you might first think" and draw attention to the notes of jazz coursing through their work, which gives a handy frame of reference to those unfamiliar with their material.

Whatever you think of their sound, you can't deny that they've had a busy few years. Since 2014 they've released two EPs (Niche Market and Lickety Split) and performed a slew of live dates and festivals including the likes of T in the Park, Belladrum and Celtic Connections' Òran Mór show, with the pair claiming the latter as one of their favourite performances to date. All these live slots will surely be good preparation for next month’s UK tour and, while we’re on the subject of tour stories, the guys tell us about their 2015 dates in Poland.

McEneny explains that due to the longer set times they had to “whip out a lot of older tunes, things that we hadn’t really thought we’d play live and I think that shaped the stuff that made the [Any Joy] album,” and Rooney agrees, adding: “We were more in tune with one another after. Because we were thrown in at the deep end, we kind of riffed off each other… I think that was a definite turning point, the sound became more powerful.” McEneny continues: “We had an a cappella tune which Marc had written and which we arranged for four voices for a gig. We kind of forgot about it but when we were in Poland we brought it back because we had to fill the time.” We're glad they did: the harmonies in Sentiment are one of the highlights of the new album. 

Focusing on the initial song-writing process McEneny tells us: "When you sit down to write the song, you're not thinking of anything but the song and what it means – it's not mechanical or anything. It's something that you write by yourself and then you take it to the band and it becomes something else."

It seems that this organic music-making process, with an emphasis on collaboration and cooperation, is characteristic of the band’s overall approach. “There’s six folk in the band and they listen to about a million things each and that gives them about a million different ideas each," McEneny explains. "When me and Marc write a song, they bring these [ideas] to the group and it kind of grows arms and legs and becomes a monster sometimes.” Rooney adds: “You’ll write a song and then everybody wants to have their own bit in it because, obviously, they’ve all got their own tastes.”

Always willing to accommodate what other band members want to do, they add that they're never ones to say "that's not how it's supposed to sound" and describe the process as “democracy in action," jokingly telling Donald Trump to take note. 

Pronto Mama's debut album, Any Joy, is set for release on 5 May via the student-run Electric Honey label, which in the past was responsible for releases by Belle and Sebastian and Biffy Clyro. The more we talk with McEneny and Rooney, the harder it becomes to distinguish between the two down the line – they go on to describe Any Joy as “a collection of the best songs we’ve written” and half-jokingly add “it’s brilliant as well!”

You might expect them to lose some of their humility in the face of all the exciting things that are happening for them. However, the success certainly doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads. Indeed, on the subject of their growing success, they say: “It’s still us, it’s just now we’ve got some money behind us,” and laughingly conclude: “We get to talk to The Skinny now!”

Any Joy is released on 5 May via Electric Honey Pronto Mama play Clarks on Lindsay Street, Dundee, 11 May; Mash House, Edinburgh, 12 May; The Art School, Glasgow, 26 May.